Recently a student thanked me for class and shared her love of the "silent moments" during our practice. She reflected that those moments of quiet are a rarity in our busy lives, something that I'm sure we can all appreciate.
Early in my years of yoga study, I too came to appreciate silence. At first, the intentional pauses during class would seem jarring, and the long-held silence of savasana was very near torture. The busyness of my mind seemed louder than any music or voice. It seemed that when the calm sound of the teacher's voice ceased, the real noise took over...what was up with that?
But slowly I got used to that silence. And funny enough, the noise in my everyday life, which I'm sure I had never even noticed before, suddenly became so obvious! The music blaring from the car radio, the chitchatting in the university cafeteria, the tv playing in the background even though nobody was watching. Where had all this noise come from? Surely I would have noticed this before!
During one especially significant moment I was speeding down the highway rushing to yoga class. As my mind raced "I'm late, I should have left earlier, I'll interrupt everyone" loud music blared from the radio. I hardly noticed. As I kept up this speedy inner dialogue my whole body tensed and my foot pressed more firmly on the gas pedal. Until suddenly I noticed the noise and turned the radio off. With that, my breath slowed, the car slowed and my mind switched to a more mindful, appreciative inner dialogue: "I'm going to yoga, I'm going to nourish my mind and body, it's ok if I'm a few minutes late, I'll enter quietly and everyone will understand".
Since then I've been very mindful of the effect sound has on our well being. Sounds of all sorts have their time and place. Loud isn't always bad, sometimes loud music is just what the soul needs! But the key is to choose how sound will be a part of your life rather than always having it in the background and just never noticing. If I want to listen to music in the car, I do. But sometimes I don't want to and so I turn it off and enjoy the silence. Sometimes I like to play music when I practice or teach yoga, but sometimes my well being or that of my students is better served without music.
Yoga teacher and writer Georg Feurstein says "it is in silence and as silence that we discover our authentic identity, the Self". Ultimately integrating moments of silence into your life will lead you to stillness, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. Here are a few easy ways to experiment with quiet:
- the next time there is a moment of silence during a yoga class, or even a longer silence as in savasana, notice your reaction to it. Don't judge your reaction or label it as "bad", just notice. This will help you understand your existing relationship to quiet. From that place of understanding you can begin to accept the silence. Use your breath as a point of meditation and follow the inhale and the exhale, letting thoughts go as you breathe.
- when you find yourself having a conversation with a friend or family member notice other sounds in the space. Is there music? Is the television on? Maybe you even notice the sound of a fan or a computer humming. If these are sounds you can control, turn them off and notice the change in your attention level during the conversation.
- take 10, 15, 30 or even 60 minutes out of your day and commit to the practice of mauna, or silence (not speaking). The beginning or end of your day, or beginning or end of your yoga class is a good time to practice mauna. Notice the effect that not speaking has on you and those around you. At first you may feel silly or anti social, but as you continue to practice, you and the people around you will come to appreciate the positive effects of silence (even in small doses!)
- turn off the stereo, car radio, television and/or any other electronic device that creates sound when it is not actively being used and enjoyed.
- before you fall asleep at night and before you get up in the morning take a few moments of silence to observe the natural noises during these inherently quiet times. Maybe you can hear birds in the morning or the sound of the wind. In the nighttime perhaps there's music coming from a home nearby or the sound of dogs barking. Acquaint yourself with these natural sounds and enjoy them for what they are. These are noises that already exist around you. When you speak, play music, or turn on the hairdryer these new sounds are being layered on top of the natural noises to create the everyday hum of life!
In silence and stillness,